Vedanta and You

Vedanta and You

What is Vedanta?

Vedanta is that branch of knowledge that is contained in almost the end portion of the Vedas. This is a Sanskrit word, made of two words, “Veda” and “antah”. Veda the word is derived from the root vid, which means to know. Veda therefore means knowledge. We cannot limit Knowledge as such, but then, we can classify them under various heads for our convenience. Therefore, by Veda, we mean all the forms of knowledge in one common format.

Though actually Vedas, which mean knowledge, are infinite, popularly people accept them to be four in number, which are Rik, Sama, Yajus and Atharvana. The modern scholars fix the age of Vedas as ten thousand years, though traditional scholars do not subscribe to this view and outright dismiss them. Knowledge can never be born, it always is, is their understanding. Hence, to fix the age of the Vedas is to fix the age of knowledge. The subject matter of this branch of knowledge, which we call Vedanta, just because it is in the end portion of each Veda, is I- the self. So, in short, because this Self-knowledge obtains in the end portion of the Vedas, people call it Vedanta and it is as old as the Vedas.

How does this ancient teaching apply to me in today’s world?

In the world, which is transactional, our understanding about the others and us, is important. Equally important is the role that each of us have to play with reference to people, place and time. This understanding goes a long way in gaining results, which go to make our life.

When we look at the world, every other person is unhappy with one thing or the other binding one. Well, it is not that there should be no challenges in life and that everyone should have everything that one seeks for. I am also not suggesting that one ought to gladly accept whatever happens to come by in this world and lead their lives. That would be just meaningless and the very incentive for living and growth would be removed. We may not have a thing, but then, the lack of a thing need not necessary cause a lack in the very personality. That the very absence of the thing need not bog down one and make the person go all out to any extent to gain that particular thing. This wild quest for things converts the world into a theatre where mad cut-throat competition prevails. Cunningness, crookedness, deceit, violence and all the unbecoming interaction patterns creep in and the world that was to be our home, becomes a battlefield for settling scores with people and things. Insecurity and the resultant worries rule our lives.

It is not necessary that one should be a billionaire or a top-level business executive in a most enterprising business organisation to run into problems. Our small families, workplace and the small community in which we live can cause that. People resort to suicides and murder on the slightest pretext. Majority of us cannot stand small difference of opinion or dissent that others casually express. More important than all this is, small things or events in life, make us blow our heads off and we fail in translating the proficiency that one has gained through intense academic pursuit at the University or elsewhere, into efficiency. This inefficiency facilitates the system in ejecting one from it, because of great competition all around.

The one singular factor for all these problems is, we have reduced ourselves into small or tiny caricatures totally distinct from what we actually are. We cannot swallow ‘this smallness’ that we have created around us for ourselves, for it is something totally different from our estimate of ourselves through our experiences. The inability to swallow makes us protest and this very protest turns out to be a battle within ourselves. Battle-scarred, weary and tired we seem to give up crumbling under pressure. No psychology or training in attitudes or behavioural patterns can help one come out of this situation and even if they do, they can at best be only a palliative, but not a cure.

The knowledge that Vedanta reveals or unfolds makes us see ourselves in the proper dimension, makes us relate us properly to the world and ourselves as well. A valid and proper entity raises a valid and proper relationship, irrespective of the time and place in which one finds oneself. Commitment to this knowledge though primarily helps in appreciating the nature of oneself, still, the ramifications of this is so vast and deep, that it re-writes the programme about the whole individual and his or her existence in this world.

We can translate the word Vedanta as Self-knowledge that is contained in the end portion of the Vedas, in very general terms. This teaching helps us gain a proper insight into the truth of the world and us. The insights that we gain help us conduct our business as effectively as possible, contributing the least possible damage both to the world and to ourselves.

What is Self-knowledge?

Self-knowledge is the knowledge of oneself. It may sound strange as to the very need for the existence of a branch of knowledge that we can call self-knowledge.  This is because when everyone knows who one is, there is no meaning in having a branch of knowledge christened Self-Knowledge. Well, though we may profess that we all know ourselves, still there are problems in our vision, which calls for further examination of the knowledge we uphold and of ourselves. The first point that needs examination is whatever we consider as knowledge, is it totally free from defects or is it totally defective. Does that knowledge that we possess right now enjoy clarity, or does vagueness shroud it?

On enquiry we would discover that the knowledge which we have about ourselves is defective, for it is not true or valid knowledge. For Knowledge to be true or valid, it must be true to the object. Here the object is the Subject and the moment we define it as subject, it should be clear that it is not an object. The one who objectifies the object is the subject. Well, we could define an object as “ an object is an object because the object has been subject to objectification.” Let us take an example of seeing a pot. The pot is seen and it becomes an object for me, because I can or do objectify (see or feel) it. “I” am the subject of the pot and pot becomes an object for me. The pot may exist in front of me, but then, when I am sleeping or dreaming, that pot does not exist for me, for I do not see it. Pot-the object may be there, but then, without the subject not being there behind the senses, how or who can objectify it?

If all this is clear, you could raise the next possible question. The question could be, how can we objectify the subject? In case we can objectify it, we can never call that thing a ‘subject’. That would be abuse of the word and it would land us in whole lot of peculiar problems. Is it that we saw the self on a fine day, or is it that we usually see ourselves? If we have seen ourselves at a specific place and time, then it would be a case for the psychiatrist to resolve which is true and real. If we say that we see it generally, it is an object that we are seeing which we mistake it to be the subject. Whatever we see or objectify is an object, which we can call it as ‘not-self’. The pot is ‘not-self’ as much as is the table that bears the pot. We mistake the ‘not-self’ to be the self, which is erroneous knowledge or error in perception.

We consider the following things, which are not the Self to be the self. They are:

  1. Body.
  2. Mind.
  3. Senses
  4. Organs of action.
  5. The vital air, etc.

Though taking them to be the self can be true from a limited context, but cannot be held true from a larger context and for all times to come. Despite all the highly advanced instruments and the knowledge of objects that we can gain through them, we should accept that we do not have the knowledge of the Self. This self –knowledge that we very much want, is contained in the Vedas in the section Vedanta.

How is Self-knowledge different from other forms of knowledge?

This knowledge though essentially is not different from other forms of knowledge in the sense it destroys or dismisses ignorance, still is totally different in its subject matter and the methodology it employs. All forms of knowledge have one common goal, which is throwing some insights about a thing that invariably is in the form of theories, which calls for past records. These past records become the basis upon which new findings are imposed. Sometimes the scientific community dismisses the past records as erroneous findings, whereas sometimes the new theories become vulnerable for onslaughts as figments of imagination. So, science mercilessly examines facts repeatedly and when it is proved otherwise, rejects it if it gains new insights it accepts it. This is common for all forms of knowledge and that branch of knowledge that does not employ this principle becomes unscientific. Does this mean that all branches of knowledge speak the same thing? No, definitely not.

Well, every branch of knowledge has its subject matter, which would definitely be different from the others. Chemistry has it subject matter, which is different from that of physics. Here when we are talking about subject matter, we are talking about it from a totally different dimension.

The subject matter of this knowledge is the “subject”, whereas all other branches of knowledge have “objects” as their subject matter. So, we can group or place all branches of knowledge under one head whereas we can place the knowledge of the self on the other. We can say in a sense that all other branches of knowledge contain the knowledge of the ‘not self’, whereas Vedanta contains the knowledge of the self as its subject matter. Hence, we do call it as Self-knowledge.

Further, every branch of knowledge has a subject matter that is limited and made up of parts, limbs or attributives and hence the knowledge gained at any point of time would always be incomplete. With improvement in science and technology and the resultant change in precision instruments, the knowledge also would change. There is need for upgrading and updating the information that one has gathered regarding things all the time, whereas in Self-knowledge, neither is there any scope of upgrading and updating, nor is there a need for it. This is because the subject matter of this Self -Knowledge is the Self that is made of one homogenous stuff that is free from attributives, limbs, functions etc. Further, it is concerning the subject, which is self-evident, unlike the subject matter of other forms of knowledge, which happens to be objects.

Does this knowledge have practical use?

Use is always practical, for there can be no ‘impractical use’. Use is use, only when the ‘use’ is useful to the other or me; else I do not find any use for that and for me at that point of time it would be useless. Every branch of knowledge has its practical use in the sense it removes ignorance regarding that particular subject matter which it deals with. Thus, freeing one from ignorance and its resultant conflicts, is one practical use of knowledge. However, one might wonder as to how this particular knowledge that we are speaking of Self-knowledge, would be useful to one.

Exactly for what am I searching? Is there anything particular that we are searching for in our lives? You may laugh at me saying, ‘Oh! Come on Swamiji, do not tease us? We are continuously searching for one object or the other. We can say our life is nothing but one continuous search, in which objects keep changing, with the change in the parameters of time and place.

Therefore, we do accept that we are searching for something, but I am not going to ask you what it is you are searching for right now. Can I ask you a question, how, when and with what are we going to end the search? I am sure they would be a big question mark, are they not. When did the very search begin, is also a million-dollar question? For the time being, we can say that the search is seemingly beginningless, endless and something that is a big jigsaw puzzle, until you can answer the question in definite terms. I am sure everyone else would answer the question the same way you did. Hence, we can safely and surely call this search as a beginningless and endless one. This search which has been there ever since human being was born, could be ended with this knowledge. This is the only use of this knowledge-but its wider ramifications we have seen elsewhere.

Only with the ending of the search, could one remain at home with oneself, with no bondage whatsoever. This knowledge liberates one from all forms of bondage. This is the only gain. The seers say, “through this knowledge one gains liberation,” “With this knowledge you can safely cross over the mighty and Eternal Ocean of bondage”. “This knowledge destroys all karma to ashes.”

What is enlightenment?

The word Enlightenment contains the word ‘light’, ‘lighten’ or even ‘enlighten’ in it. Therefore, we can say that this word has something to do with illumination. You may ask me as to Illumination of what does it happen to be. We are definitely not talking about normal transactional commodities. It was not over the spilling of water from the tub or over the body being in the tub, that the scientist shouted, ‘Eureka’. If you ask what then triggered the shouting, we can say that it was over the exact amount of water that the body displaced when it entered the tub and the laws governing that. This was something that almost everyone or at least by very many people missed up until that point of time.

It is enlightening or lighting up of that which many do not see. If we can analyse into what is it, many do not see or what is it that many miss, you would be surprised that it is “oneself”. We definitely miss what we take for granted and the one thing that universally everyone takes for granted is the ‘Self- oneself’. All this obtains when we look at facts from one level. Varied reasons could be there for that, which we do not want to go into right now, as that would be an answer for a different question, which we could answer later.

With the change in levels, may be we can say there is only one thing we all miss, which is the content of everything. The container seems to very draw our attention very much, because of the form, shape, colour, size, name and the varied attributes. That is the reason why majority of the directors or managers of the sales division, pay more attention to display attractive containers and are prepared to spend extra dollars for that. They know that we are bound to take the container for granted at least for the time being. Well, though it may not be very much of harm to us here, in taking the contents of the container for granted- still, there is a new awareness growing in some part. However, if one takes the content of the creation for granted, we are likely to run into problems galore. The content of the whole creation cannot be different from the content of every blessed thing in the creation, am I right? Does not the creation include me the transactional entity?

What will I gain by this search?

By this search and its resultant fulfilment, you definitely will not gain dollars, promotion in your work place, better jobs, or a nice family. In fact, you will not gain stuff of that kind, that captures the mind of the less evolved. What for was the commitment then? The commitment to this knowledge is only to gain the knowledge. Therefore, through this seeking at the outset, at best we can say that it is the gain of the knowledge of the Self. Gain of the knowledge of the self indeed is the gain of the Self.

We cannot ask, ‘having gained the self what would I gain’? The self that we are interested in gaining is a self, which is free from all forms of limitations and which happens to be the ‘real me’. Having gained it, the ‘false me’ or ‘mistaken me’ which is limited and insecure, rolls away. With this, the insecurity and sense of limitation with its resultant sorrows also roll away from the individual.

Can we now say, “is this all that we get?” What more do we want from life, if not fullness, completeness and happiness? In fact, the urge for gaining anything arises only because of the presence of incompleteness or unhappiness, is it not?

Can I even talk about gaining something?

Well, in the normal sense in which people use the word gain, it always means that there is something tangible that one has achieved, which one did not have earlier, either in that form or proportion. Hence, for one to say that there is a gain or an accomplishment through Vedanta is not right as it is purely a relative word that is conditioned by time, space and object frames. It would be okay for one to say that one gained a bumper prize in a lottery, as one could show that thing which the person gained.

However, coming to the question of Self-knowledge, we cannot show even one single thing that the seeker of self-knowledge gains through the commitment, in the real sense of the term. We cannot also say that the commitment to this knowledge was useless, for the problem of seeking and the resultant bondage has ended. Earlier there was insecurity, fear, sorrow and the whole host of binding factors, which one sees no more hence, one cannot say that the whole exercise was useless.

From one level, in a way, we can say that there is a gain, which is of the form of gain of freedom from sorrow and gain of happiness. Nevertheless, we cannot say that wholeheartedly, as every gain is subject to loss, and if this happens to be a gain then the gain of happiness would be subject to loss. It is a gain of what has already been there or better still, what is always there. This is because the gain is the gain of the self, which is self-evident and already accomplished. How can a thing that always is-self-evident ever cease to be?

Is there a path to enlightenment?

Having seen what enlightenment is, we cannot ask whether there is a path in the strict sense of the term. Every path is something that connects two things or ends. The end to be reached -destination is one thing and the place where one is the other. Here, in enlightenment there is no gap or distance to be covered. So talk of travel is ignorance and the travel too would be only in ignorance. By saying this, it may look as though we are talking the language of a mystic that there could be no communication and that living is just meaningless or hopeless. Hence, we say that there is a path, but hasten to add that the path is after all a “seeming path”. Where ignorance creates a distance and a path, we can successfully traverse the path and reach the destination through knowledge. Hence, if at all there is a path, knowledge is the only path.

Ignorance covers, veils or envelopes a thing and we can say that the thing is in the dark- or better still the mind is in the dark regarding that.  Knowledge alone can lighten the thing and this it does by removing or negating the ignorance that shrouds the thing. By knowledge, we do not mean accumulation of information or ideas and setting up of structure through theories. Stuff of that kind belongs to the past, which have only bound us and would continue doing so. The mind conditions the past and so whatever we gain is still going to be conditioned. We can move from one set of conditionings to another and there could possibly be some sort of psychological satisfaction at the most, but not resolution of the problem.

By the word knowledge, what we mean is not having concepts or ideas of a thing but ‘Perceiving’ or ‘Seeing’ that thing. An idea or concept is what the mind conceives or spins which also could directly or indirectly be a product of a spoken or written word. Nevertheless, this does not mean that word can only give rise to concepts or ideas. Words can also give rise to actualisation, which is being aware of things- knowledge, which some people prefer calling direct knowledge as against concepts. They prefer calling ‘indirect knowledge.’

Well, is there any rule or law governing this fact regarding words producing or causing actualisation and concepts or is it accidental or a coincidence occurring sometimes? Though very many believe that it is a happening beyond reason or laws, it is not true. There are definite laws, which we need not bother about right now, as it would make the answer too terse and complex. Being ‘aware’ of the thing is indeed, what we mean by knowledge.

How can meditation help me?

Let me begin answering the question with the assumption that the meaning of the world meditation is clear. Meditation can help us in two ways or at two levels. First, the mind of majority of the people is so tied down by the happenings in the world that it keeps revelling or toying with an issue even after the transaction has been completed long ago. This ‘toying’ seemingly makes the mind get into a state that bogs it down. This is just one part of the problem and the other part is, it drains the mind of all the energy and when it has to commit itself to any transaction, it finds it hard. The net result is frustration and dejection and may be the final self-condemnation. Meditation can help in setting right this issue and with it, all the allied issues become settled. Therefore, meditation is a complex process, which can be termed as a ‘purging-charging-catharsis programme’. This is a very gross way of looking at meditation.

The second is from a much deeper sense. Having listened to the teaching of Brahma Vidya, certain facts would be clear, but many grey areas would definitely be there, that is still shrouded in notions. If we want to clear all the grey areas and make the teaching come within grasp or to technically speaking, remove doubts, vagueness and errors that could still be there in the mind. We have to commit ourselves to meditation. One removes the primary defect, which is sense of impossibility, by merely listening to the teaching. In other words, we can say, meditation is a tool for a person to own the truth of what one has listened to.

What does non-dualism mean?

Honestly speaking, there is nothing like non-dualism for, if this non-dualism exists, it definitely must be different from me, in which case, we are only abusing the word. Why then is the word used? This, is a technical term that majority of the Masters of Vedanta use, to unfold the reality or truth of the Self! There is duality around, where everything is different from every other thing. All that is there around us can be classified under two heads. One, the things and beings that I can see and interact with, which we can be call as “world,” the created or the creatures. The second, that which happens to be the cause for this world. This definitely must be an existent factor, for otherwise, the creation itself would not have been there. Every effect presupposes a cause, is it not? Can there be a clay pot without clay? Can there be golden ornaments without gold? Let us call the one that is the cause for the entire category of created or creatures as the Creator. We are right now not going to be bothered as to who, what or where the Creator is and all the other details.

The question now arises as to who is the one who is seeing these two categories?  Is there a sentient entity or not? Let us not bother about ourselves whether all these are fiction or true. For, even if it happens to be a fiction, the question would still be for whom is it a fiction? Is it not that we the perceivers are there? Irrespective of our views regarding the perceivers, they exist for us, because we exist, is it not? So, there are three categories, the individual who is viewing the creation, the creation and the Creator. When one considers that they are all totally different from each other and the difference is eternal is duality. In short, the varied and many that we see are essentially and eternally different is duality. Absence of this duality is what Masters call as non-duality.

The existence of non-duality does not depend on the total absence of duality on the contrary; it is despite the duality being there. This means that the duality is not opposed to non-duality and hence they can seemingly co-exist. Supposing we go to a beach and while sitting there, the waters draw our attention, do you think we could miss the waves hitting the beach or waves taking over the other waves?  You could see big waves, small waves, breaker waves and tidal waves. Each wave is beautiful to look at enjoying a power within it, is it not?

Let us see what goes to make a sea or lake. We see the whole lot of waves, froth, foam, bubbles and water. Is there anything else that essentially goes to make the sea or lake? Let us not count on the animal, insects, plants etc. that could be in the sea or lake, for we know that they are in the sea or lake, but not the sea or lake. The whole lot of things there, we can say go to make the duality. Every wave is different from every other wave and every bubble is different from every other bubble, are they not? This is all fine when we see things from one viewpoint. When we shift our attention to the waters, are these things apart from or distinct from waters? Can there be a sea or lake without waters? Just the water does not go to make the sea or lake, I suppose, is it not? Apart from waters, is there a sea or lake? Can we not say that there is just water and water alone, which we call waves, bubbles, froth, etc? Can we not say that there is nothing apart from the water that goes to make the sea or lake? Therefore, can we not say that the sea or lake is just the one-non-dual water?

Can we not apply the same analogy and say that there is nothing apart from gold that constitutes the golden ornaments or clay to make the clay-ware? Therefore, we can say in a way that the non-dual gold or clay goes to make ornaments and the clay ware respectively. We can even say that the non-dual clay, gold, waters -create, sustain and resolve the clay-ware, ornaments, and sea/lake. They are seemingly the basis for the effects they seemingly create, nurture, sustain and destroy. Nevertheless, it does not sound logical to say that there is a non-dual clay, gold, water, etc., etc., for, each of these things have very many things apart from them. We can speak of them as being non-dual in a way, only with reference to certain things but we cannot speak of them as non-dual, in absolute terms.

This again brings up the question, what is their basis? I can even ask the trump question, what is the basis for the whole creation? It must definitely have a basis, for without it, there could be no creation what so ever.  Let us not very much bother about it right now, if there is such a thing, that must be non-dual and if there is no such thing, then you should account for the basis of the world.

Well, if we accept a basis, then that basis should be non-dual and the state of that is what we can call non-duality and the knowledge of that, is non-dualism. So, non-dualism simply means that there is nothing apart from the one stuff that goes to make the creation and that the creation, which is seemingly varied and many is nothing but the one stuff. What that one stuff happens to be we shall see at another point of time.

What distinguishes the body, mind, ego, and self?

At the outset, it is important to know first, what goes to make these. The body is made up of flesh, blood, bones, hair and varied other natural chemicals that the body generates and other chemicals that are injected into the system as supplements or additives. In short, we can say that matter goes to make the body and they are all gross, hence we can call the body as the gross body. The matter that goes to make the body, is not the matter that goes into the constitution of the mind, however, some material goes to constitute the mind too. Mind being subtle calls for subtle matter. The ego is one of the functions of the mind. Therefore, we can say that if the whole conglomeration can put it under one head, it would be the Body-mind-complex. Matter goes to make the creation of the body-mind-complex. Being created they are subject to destruction.

Having said that they are subject to appearance (creation) and disappearance (destruction), we can easily understand that they come and go. Can we call them apparent, because they appear and disappear, hence enjoy appearance and disappearance degree of reality? Every appearance must have a basis and every disappearance should be into a basis. The basis of an appearance cannot be one thing and totally distinct from it cannot be the basis for disappearance. The thing that appears from a basis must disappear into the same basis. The basis for the body-mind-complex is indeed me-I. Is not gold the basis for the golden chain? If there is anything that differentiates the golden chain from gold, what is it? May be, name and form distinguishes the chain from gold, but that is purely apparent. An apparent distinguishing mark or difference does not bring about any real difference. So, there is no real difference or distinction between gold and the golden chain. Where there is no real difference, if we see a difference, we should understand that the difference is born of sheer ignorance.

Therefore, to the question what distinguishes the body, mind, ego from the Self, the answer is ignorance. It is because of ignorance that the problem arises and it is kept going because of ignorance. As long as ignorance exists, so long the problem would be there.

What, if anything, distinguishes me from God?

Well, who or what exactly is this God would be the first question? If by God we mean one of the things in the world, then it would be worth enquiring, for when so many things are there to be bothered over, why bother about a topic that is not important? However, if you say that it is an important topic, then how come this important topic, is just one of the things in the world for us? Why should one go after God not a pumpkin or even a strawberry? If you say that God is not one of the topics in the world, but totally different, then we are talking sense, and we could pursue our discussion. If God is totally different, then who or what is it? Well, name and form limits every thing in the world and if God is totally different, God must be different from being limited, which means that Lord is free from all forms of limitations and therefore limitless.

Well, God is limitless, which fact we all accept and people present that in varied ways like, God is omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient, etc. If God is limitless, then where is the world or I?  You can immediately say that they are in God. Is the world or I in God like water in the bucket? Are there two different things like water and bucket? If there are two things, then both are limited and all of them belong to the same degree of reality. Hence, the question continues, ‘if god is limitless, then, where is the world or I? You cannot say in the God, much less can you say outside or away from the God, which again limits the God.

Do you know why we are in this catch 22 situation? That is because of a fallacy in our thinking. There is no gap between god and the world or I. It is ignorance that creates a gap between God and the rest of the things. Therefore, the answer to the eradication of all sense of difference anywhere lies in eradication of ignorance.

What is the cause of existence?

Well, if there were to be a cause for existence, then it would only become an existent, is it not? Whatever we see in the world is an existent thing. Some of them rolled away from existence and people consider them as non-existent, do they not? In a way – a limited sense, can we not say that existent and non-existent things constitute the world? My beard is existent and with reference to that my tail is non-existent. All existent objects, were once upon a time non-existent (in that form) and all those that are existing now, would in time become non-existent in that form, do they not? Can we not say that existent and non-existent are apparent, because they are subject to appearance and disappearance?

Does not any appearance manifest out of something? Will not any appearance disappear into something? Well, is not something supporting an appearance? From out of what has a clay pot come, if at all it has come? I am sure all would say clay. Let us say that the clay pot exists right in front of you now.  What is it that is supporting this pot? You cannot say ‘nothing’, can you? ‘Nothing’, cannot be the support for ‘something’, unless that something happens to be nothing. In case it is nothing, why call it something and then reduce it to nothing? Is not clay the support for the pot, while the pot exists? Just as pot depends upon clay for its support, all existent and non-existent things depend upon existence for their support, do they not?

Could you not say that ‘everything’ in the universe depends upon existence for their support and when every single thing is included in ‘everything’ then, there is nothing save existence, is it not? If at all you ask me the cause for existence, all that I could say is, existence is the cause for existence, or I could also say that there is no cause for existence. Existence is self-supporting, which obtains as the nature of the seer- I.

What is the purpose of existence?

A thing that exists in the creation definitely has a purpose like even cilantro or black pepper. We could use it in varieties of dishes and may be make some herbal home medicine too and claim that is the purpose of that particular thing. Just as cilantro, every blessed thing in the universe has a purpose, of which I might not be aware. Similarly, if existence were to be a thing, then it must also have a purpose, no doubt. However, is existence one of the things in the universe or is it the basis or support of everything? Existence is not one of the transactional things that we see or transact with, in our daily lives. We have special instruments called eyes to perceive forms and ears to hear sounds, without which one cannot gain the knowledge of forms or sounds.  What is the special instrument with which we can gain the knowledge of existence? If we do not have one such special instrument, then how can we say that existence is one of the transactional things that we come upon every day?

Since existence is not one of the things, we cannot ask the question, ‘what is the purpose of existence?’ Existence exists, because it happens to be its nature, its content. I do not know whether I have answered your question; however let us continue with our discussion as it might throw some more light. The moment we speak of a purpose, are we not projecting? All these projections, are they not concepts that the mind has spun out? Is there any projection or concept that does not have a basis? We are right now bothered about what the basis might be, but let us accept that without a basis there could be not any  projection or concept. If all concepts or projections could be resolved or reduced, could we not say that conscious existence is the basis for all of them? This conscious existence is, and the mature or immature mind choicelessly depends upon it for its existence. The moment I ask the question, what is the purpose of this ‘existence’, then we start spinning out a concept. Let us learn to look into the existence and its nature instead of projecting and deriving some fleeting intellectual satisfaction. Existence exists because it is existence and it cannot but exist all the time, unlike ‘an existent’ which comes into existence because of some reason and rolls way from existence because of yet another reason.

This existence is free from limitations of time and space. It is also free from other forms of limitations brought about by function, quality, relationships, name and form. Even the term or name’ existence’, one attributes upon existence, however, if one consciously uses the term with the awareness of its meaning, one succeeds in revealing its meaning-the truth. After all, we employ words either for revelling or for revealing. A wise person employs them for revealing the truth where as the others might use it for revelling or satisfaction. Here, when we are using the word’ Existence’, we employ the word to reveal ‘that which is’ and happens to be the basis. Existence cannot be distinct from you regarding which you could spin about by projecting.

What does it mean to be attached or unattached to worldly pursuits?

It all depends upon what you mean by the word ‘attached’ or ‘unattached’ and ‘worldly pursuits’. These terms are more often misunderstood and that creates very many problems. If however, you mean that ‘attached’ means connected, being in touch, then you cannot ever be unattached. At some point of time and place we ought to be connected with things. When we move away from a place, it might look as though we are unattached from those things. What do you mean by the word ‘worldly pursuits’? If you mean pursuits in the world, then we do not have much choice and regarding them, if we are not attached, then, that very act would trigger very many problems. As long as we exist in the world, there would be pursuits that we have to follow to effectively remain in the world and also for the world effectively being there for us. If by any chance you mean the ‘mad rat race’ or ‘sheer consumerism’, then it is a different question. The very understanding should distance you from them, though technically we might not be able to say that you are unattached. We can say that, ‘that particular object does not warrant any action pattern on your part.

Are detachment and renunciation the same?

In fact, there is nothing like detachment, though people use the word very frequently. The Sanskrit word for that would be vairagya. It just means freedom from craving or attachment towards the objects of enjoyment. This is a very meaningful word, but then when we translate it as detachment we run into problems. What is it that we mean by being detached?  From where, what and when would be the question? All forms of attachments as we have seen earlier are products of ignorance. This being the case, we should understand that ignorance-born-effects are no effects in the real sense of the term.  Therefore, let me use the term dispassion or freedom from craving for the enjoyment. Is this what you mean by the word detachment? In case it is, let us proceed with the discussion? This dispassion or freedom from craving is born of the understanding that both the objects of pleasure as well as the very pleasure are ephemeral, relative as well as subjective. This dispassion could also be because of the fear of getting caught in the pleasure hunt or the very pleasures being deceptive are traps for bondage. It could also be because of the understanding that the gain of pleasure is at very high costs and that it is not worth the trouble. Thus, the dropping of the craving could be because of various reasons, whereas renunciation is something totally different.

Renunciation is giving up a thing completely and very well. This giving up is a product of understanding the truth, unlike dispassion that is a product of ignorance. Giving up a thing need not necessarily be physical, but that does not mean, it should not be. We could say that renunciation is a sign of knowledge. We shall be discussing about renunciation in detail sometime later on.

Does detachment mean I do not care about the world?

Well, even if it does mean that, how is it going to help one? Can we afford effectively to live in the world, with this attitude? Supposing I live in this world without caring for anything, what is it that we are going to achieve? When we do not even care for that, can I call it an achievement and even if we do, how does it make any difference?

Does it matter whether I care for the world or not? Supposing I do not care for the world, am I going to still live in this world or do you think I would get out of it? If I am quitting it, where am I heading towards, is it not another world? Do I care for that or not? However, I would like to counter-question you. Is the caring for the world the cause for any problem? Does not caring for the world provide a means to resolve any problems that are there in it? By not caring, not only do I become insensitive to that thing, but also that would leave in me insensitivity in the process, which is the real problem. The others (world) come and go, but’ I’ am there always for me and in this ‘me’ if insensitivity sets in, I would be insensitive to everything and everybody. Do you think this would be a healthy thing for husbands, wives, partners, companions, friends, parents or even business executives and people at the administrative level?

Well, caring is not a problem, but misplaced caring is. We could also say’ allowing one to becoming bogged down by the views of the world’ could be a cause for problem. Dispassion could help one look at things objectively and not get carried away by things.

If I am detached, why should I act?

We had clearly seen the meaning of the word detachment. Well, honestly speaking the answer lies in your question itself. Though we think attachment is the factor that makes us act, that is not the truth. In fact, if we closely observe you would discover that attachment prevents us from acting, but triggers a reaction pattern or tendency.

Let me ask you a question. When we say that there is an attachment on the part of someone to a thing or a person, what is the state of mind of that person? Attachment is always deep, else we would not consider it as attachment in the first place. Therefore, I could counter question you with this question. If there is attachment how could anyone ever, act? Hence, only when one is free from attachment one possibly does enjoy a freedom to act. If freedom from attachment is what you mean by detachment, then only when you are detached you can and will act.

When there is neither any internal nor external pressure but you still find a person acting, the action is born of understanding.  Therefore, to the question, why should I act, the answer is, because you have to. As long as we are alive, act we must and in this there is no choice. May be, we might have a choice in choosing a particular course of action at a particular place with particular instruments, but then, there is no choice in action. Even if we chose not to act, then, are we not doing the act of non-performance of action? Is this not an action? Ignorance-born-error in the form of false values, propel us into action, even if we do not want to. The Bhagavad Geeta beautifully explains the mechanism of action.